2018 Tacoma Rainiers Preview

Jay Yencich · April 3, 2018 at 6:22 pm · Filed Under Mariners, Minor Leagues 

Tacoma write-ups are usually a little bit harder for me to do despite the proximity and accompanying interest. Part of it is fatigue by the time I get to this point, but in this case, you can look up and down the roster and see a lot of guys who have spent some time in the majors and are known commodities in that respect. There’s not much left for me to do in the way of projection or speculation and their value is mostly determined by the needs of the major league team over much that they’re able to prove individually. This proves especially true in thin systems, which is where the organization is at presently.

The rotation is certainly interesting for what it could provide in the near and longer terms, likewise the ‘pen, though that has a less prospect-oriented look to it. Still, where the depth looks to be right now is far better than where we were a season ago, much as we like to make fun of Jerry for his near compulsive trading. The look of the infield is likely to change a little in the coming days, but the outfield I imagine is pretty set and will feature more guys who can run things down. We’re quite far removed from the 2010 Rainiers and I can’t imagine our current front office putting up with playing first basemen in the outfield because dingers.

It’s the last preview and gets a little loopy in spots, but I remain composed during talking about the interesting starters and almost brand-new bullpen. Then it’s broken hitting stats, Batman, dogging on the Mets, and trying to ascribe a D&D alignment to some poor dude’s baserunning.

RHP Christian Bergman, LHP Ariel Miranda, RHP Max Povse, RHP Rob Whalen

With ‘Kuma and Erasmo looking to take on some innings sooner or later, we’ll just say there are four guys we’re looking at for the time being. Miranda is probably the most likely to be called up when the team needs it. Looking up the numbers, I just rediscovered that he took 160.0 innings last season and got all of 0.1 WAR out of them. That’s bad, but being a left-hander of reasonably good stuff, he’ll keep getting opportunities. I tried to figure out if there was a major difference in his approach last year, but I didn’t see much out of the ordinary relative to his more successful 2016, just that he was using the splitter more and the change-up less. My professional advice is for him to stop giving up so many dingers.

The dream would be for Povse to not get yo-yo’d up and down the I-5 corridor, and the depth we have now in pitching suggests that’s fingers-crossed possible. Tall Wall was unfortunately projected upon in a “what if we had a Chris Devenski?” thought experiment that didn’t work out so hot. Dipoto was on the record with a “my bad” thereafter and now it looks like we’ll be starting him again if it can be helped. He’s got decent velocity and a good change, though one curious thing in his profile is that he’s struggled the last couple of years to turn height into downward leverage on the ball, which would make him a lot more interesting. I keep on holding out that he’ll take in some coaching from a similarly proportioned pitcher, but we just keep on not-signing Doug Fister and it’s bumming me out.

One of the great boons of the late part of the offseason was finally figuring out what had been going on with Whalen, who disappeared mid-season last year as the pitching depth grew more and more dire. You can find a podcast interview with him and fellow farmhand Lance Thonvold if you search a little, but the gist is that he was having severe anxiety issues that were becoming unmanageable on the mound, and as a fellow sufferer who had a spike in panic attacks over the last calendar year, I get it. It’s rough and I’m glad that he’s found people who can help him with it. Whalen’s arsenal is pretty similar to Povse’s overall, with a better curve and a heavier fastball. I think that a lot of the numerical rankings dropped him lower on prospect lists than he deserved, knowing what we do now, and I figure that he could be a back-end to mid-rotation guy should things end up working out right for him.

Bergman was one of many pitchers used by the Mariners but is most notable for being the one who looks like he collects guitars on the side. Though he likely would have been a more useful piece a few years ago, the shifts in velocity have now marked him as below-average for a righty. He holds on in part due to his reticence to give out free passes. Of course, the team got 54.0 innings out of him and he had -0.2 WAR to show for that. I don’t expect that we’ll have to see him as much this year but, wow, there is something to be said for having contingency plans, is there not? I don’t want to endure another season where we have to use a major-league record forty pitchers, you guys.

LHP Dario Alvarez, RHP Shawn Armstrong, RHP Chasen Bradford, RHP Ryan Cook, RHP Erik Goeddel, RHP Ashton Goudeau, RHP Pat Light, RHP Mike Morin, RHP Josh Smith

One note would be the new look of the bullpen, with only Light having pitched in the org last year. I’ll start out, however, with someone who isn’t technically “new,” he just hasn’t pitched much. Cook was out all of last season with TJ which came after he had missed the previous season with a lat injury. He was a useful piece for the A’s from 2012 to 2014, with a mid-90s fastball, change-up, and slider combo that had him accumulate 3.3 WAR over that span, which isn’t bad at all for a reliever. Unlike other arms who had injury troubles and were cut loose, Cook has exhibited some loyalty to the Mariners and decided to stick it out. The team seems likely to reward him once he proves his stuff and stamina is back, as he was mentioned late in camp as a likely contributor.

But Cook is merely one of many arms who are either on the 40-man or had been up until somewhat recently, and he holds no spot himself. Among those who do, the lone lefty is a journeyman in Alvarez, having spent limited time in the majors with three different organizations. He’s proven himself to be essentially a two-pitch guy, low-90s FB plus a slider that clocks ten miles lower, which he’ll sometimes sling up there even more often than the heater. He’s known for his extreme strikeouts, but lacks command of it and hitters have been known to take the fastball deep. At 29-years-old, he remains something of a project.

Bradford would be another 40-man member whose first name still isn’t a typo, though it could be wishful thinking in his approach to hitters as the Ks in the high minors have been “good, not great.” Fangraphs tells me he mostly pitches off a fastball around 90 mph and mixes in a slider and change with similar velocities. He does appear to get a good number of groundballs despite the seemingly pedestrian heat on the pitch, so one wonders if he might be another one of those coveted (by us) spin-rate types who outperforms the raw velo.

Moving on to the former 40-men, Armstrong represents what we did with some of our int’l slot money when we lost Ohtani. He’s gotten 43.1 innings in the majors and has been one more casualty of increasing home-run rates league wide, coupled with subpar command. While his strikeout-rate in the minors was double-digits and suggested “Destroyer of Worlds,” not so in the majors, and it’s been more in line with what you might expect from an arm that throws two types of low-90s fastball and the occasional curve. He was tried out as a multi-inning guy early in his career, but that seems to be a thing of the past, so I’d see him more as a sixth or seventh inning type on a good day.

The other would be Morin, who I think may have been talked about as possibly starting, which he never has? Or was that the departed Sam Moll? In any case, Morin mixes three pitches in similar proportions, low-90s FB, low-80s slider, low-70s change, which is a lot of fun having formerly fanboyed over a pitcher who threw low-90s heat and a mid-60s change. The basics say he could be starting, but not only hasn’t he, he’s only rarely has been given the opportunity to go multiple innings, and I’m not sure what the philosophy behind that has been. He’s had scattered DL appearances in his career, yet they’ve never been arm injuries.

The not-memorably-named Smith has been on active rosters in the past, pitching for the Reds and the Athletics in the last three years. He’s got average velocity and the use of his arsenal looks more like a starter plugged into a relief role, and sure enough, starting is what he did through the bulk of his minor league career. He seems to be the pitchability sort who lacks raw stuff, but FG has him as using a cutter last year which rated as much more effective than his standard fastball and that could be something to watch.

Goeddel had been with the Rangers, but he never officially pitched with them during the regular season and instead had made his debut and pitched parts of four seasons with the Mets. Unlike many of the fellows I’ve been writing about, he’s produced strikeouts both in the high minors and at the major league level, with a low-90s fastball, a curve, and a split. The split has ben a productive pitch for him at times, but the fastball has gotten worse and worse results and he was taken yard eight times in just 29.0 innings last season.

Goudeau, whose name could sound like Goeddel if the speaker’s mouth was numb, was one of those other Royals pitchers that we picked up in the cash trade. He’s always given up a fair number of hits, but that and the home runs have really been a trouble spot for him in double-A, and moreover he’s lost more than a K per nine innings. He’ll get his first shot at triple-A as a 25-year-old, but the PCL has been rather dangerous grounds for home runs these past few years.

We close with Light, who back in 2012 was the 37th overall pick by the Red Sox. He made his debut for them in 2016, and was later traded to Minnesota in exchange for Abad, Pitcher, then was sent to the Pirates for a PTNBL and is now ours after we successfully outrighted him last June. He pitches off a mid-90s fastball and will use a split the rest of the time, which sounds good, except his command has been pretty awful at times and he had a 34/34 K/BB last year, to match the 16/16 K/BB he had the year before at the major league level. The velocity at least means he’ll keep getting chances to impress. If he ever showed up to camp in the BSOHL, Edgar could point at him and say “It’s a Light Pat.”

Tuffy Gosewisch, Garrett Kennedy

I usually consider myself a fan of it when players can somehow manage to break a familiar statistic in some way. OPS+ is a stat that attempts to show us how a hitter stacks up relative to the competition by establishing 100 as a point of league-average. Except when it doesn’t, as when James Benjamin Gosewisch had a -51 OPS+ in eleven games. He wasn’t as bad as a triple-A hitter, but coming in at .665 against a league average of .774, he’s not so hot. But hey, that caught stealing mark? Better than league-average at 31%, better by 3%. And of the 168 passed balls in the league, Tuffy only was credited with two. This has been a paragraph about Tuffy Gosewisch.

We bought Kennedy from the Dodgers around the time Freitas was called up to the big club and I would expect he’s not long for triple-A, seeing as how he only has thirty-seven games at double-A. He was formerly a 14th-round pick by LA out of the University of Miami. He more or less hits like a catcher but has the inferior glove compared to Gosewisch. I would expect him to head to another affiliate as soon as Zunino heals up and I certainly hope that doesn’t take too long.

2B Gordon Beckham, 1B Matt Hague, 3B Danny Muno, SS Zach Vincej

Yes, sir, this is a triple-A infield. Our pal Mike Curto, Rainiers broadcaster, noted that Vincej is the youngest of the bunch and perhaps he’s the most prospect-y if one squints. Jeff suggested that Vincej could be the next Zack Cozart, and while he did have half his hits go for extras and an ISO of nearly .200, hasn’t come to pass quite yet. He did hit .352/.425/.676 in twenty games worth of fall ball a couple of years ago, which is rather crazy. Then again, I also feel like in the PCL these days, that’s doable.

Beckham seemed to be in line to be the utility guy and was being talked up towards the end of Spring Training play, but then he was released and re-signed and when the dust cleared Andrew Romine was it for us. Beckham is interesting to consider as somewhat parallel to Dustin Ackley, both being quick risers with good rookie seasons only to fizzle out into quad-A type players. Ackley may have the superior WAR as of now, but Beckham has a job, so this round goes to him. The only other thing I can think of saying about him at the moment is that his first name is actually “James,” and he goes by his middle, so I wonder how his parents feel about Batman.

One might remember Hague from his time as the Huskies first baseman in the mid-aughts. Despite being a formidable collegiate slugger, he’s never really translated those numbers to pro ball and topped out at fifteen home runs annually, a mark he’s hit twice now. He’s good for thirty doubles too and maybe fifty plus walks, but not the conventional production from the position. I knew that he had briefly made the major leagues with the Pirates and I vaguely remember a stint with the Blue Jays, but I hadn’t remembered the brief stint with the Hanshin Tigers in 2016, perhaps because unlike other old friends like Wladimir Balentien, he wasn’t a hit there.

Muno initially signed with the organization late last spring and decided to take a second go at it after serving as a third baseman and utility guy for the Rainiers last year. With a .273/.387/.430 batting line, 2017 had been one of the most productive seasons of his career, the OPS itself representing the highest mark since his debut season. Being born and raised and living on the west coast, it probably worked out all right for both sides to agree on another year.

OF John Andreoli, CF Ian Miller, OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF Cameron Perkins

Though he was not awarded with a coveted 40-man spot in the offseason, nor is he on the short list of outfield call-ups with Ichiro! around, Miller’s probably the center fielder of choice here. You probably know the basics here, but he hit .326/.382/.430 playing two-thirds of the season for the Travs and then got the last third in Tacoma where he hit .268/.297/.315 for the final third. He also stole forty+ bags for the third season in a row and hung out a lot / talked shop with Dee Gordon and Ichiro during spring training. I know that he’s not “young” as a prospect, but I’m a fan and am always going to be more enthusiastic when a player our org has developed all the way through gets a shot.

I suppose that also clarifies certain biases of mine in approach here. Welp. Perkins is interesting as a guy who developed later and got his first shot last year as a 26-year-old (you see, Ian, there’s hope for you yet!). Despite being a guy who played at the corners more often than not, his bat had never profiled at the spot and he struggled in his first two attempts at triple-A—in relative terms, sub-.750 OPS—until last year when he spent much of the year in Lehigh Valley and hit .288/.374/.447 over 295 PAs. That got him almost a hundred plate appearances with the Phillies, who finished last in the NL East and had reason to check in on what they had. His odds on making the Mariners got longer when they outrighted him on Monday.

Nieuwenhuis is notable for the fact that during the 2015 season, he was traded by the Mets to the Angels for cash, only to be DFA’d by his new team and reacquired by the Mets seventeen days later. In my mind, the Mets laugh all the way to the bank and then try to invest their newfound windfall in a Bernie Madoff scheme only to find that he’s been incarcerated for the last six years. Nieuwenhuis has spent parts of six seasons, totaling just over four hundred games, playing the outfield and recording an OPS+ of 90, which is hardly bad. Since he’s been used predominantly in center, I’d guess that this helps to project Tacoma as yet one more plus defensive outfield.

All the more so because they also have Andreoli figuring to cover some ground out there. I took a quick look at the 27-year-old’s stats and he presently has eight more stolen bases than RBIs, and almost twice as many runs as RBIs, which should give you the general picture as to how he’s used. He’s not been a high-average hitter as he’s gotten further up the ladder, however. Even worse, he managed to strike out 162 times in 2016, a season where he slugged under .400. The stolen base efficiency isn’t great either, so while he can introduce chaos on the basepaths, sometimes it’s chaotic-good, sometimes chaotic-evil.


One Response to “2018 Tacoma Rainiers Preview”

  1. Jay Yencich on April 4th, 2018 10:13 am

    Caesar Izturis, Jr. to replace Motter on the roster! Exciting!

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